Extreme Park Crashes Taking Outsize Toll on Women

John BranchThe New York Times

Sarka Pancochova, a Czech snowboarder, led the slopestyle event after the first run. On her second trip down the course of obstacles and jumps, she flew through the air and smacked her head upon landing. Her helmet was cracked nearly in half, back to front.

She was one of the lucky ones, seemingly OK, but her crash last week was indicative of the violent wipeouts at these Olympics. Most of the accidents have occurred at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, site of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events.

And most of the injuries have been suffered by women. The most serious injury so far was to Maria Komissarova of Russia, who fractured her spine during training for ski cross.

Through Monday night, a review of the events at the Extreme Park counted at least 22 accidents that either forced athletes out of the competition or, if on their final run, required medical attention. Of those, 16 involved women. The proportion of injuries to women is greater than it appears given that the men's fields are generally larger. The question, a difficult one, is why.

The Winter Games have always had dangerous events. But unlike some of the time-honored sports of risk, including Alpine skiing, luge and ski jumping, there are few concessions made for women in the events at the Extreme Park. For both sexes, the walls of the halfpipe are 22 feet tall. The slopestyle course has the same massive jumps. The course for ski cross and snowboard cross is the same for men and women. The jumps for aerials and the bumps in moguls play no gender favorites.

"Most of the courses are built for the big show, for the men," said Kim Lamarre of Canada, the bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing. "I think they could do more to make it safer for women."

Compare the sports with downhill skiing, in which women have their own course, one that is shorter and less difficult. Or luge, in which female sliders start lower on the track. Or ski jump, in which women were allowed to participate this year, but only on the smaller of the hills.

But equality reigns at the Extreme Park, even to the possible detriment of the female participants.

"When we practice, we don't practice on the same jumps as the men," said J.F. Cusson, ski slopestyle coach for Canada. "But when they compete, they have to jump on the same jumps, so they get hurt. It's a big concern of mine."


By JOHN BRANCH
The New York Times